St. Catherine’s Well
AKA The Oily Well or The Balm Well
In the grounds of what is now The Balm Well restaurant lies this healing and Holy Well. Just over from the beer garden a red gravel path lined with stones (many of which have fallen on the path) leads down top the barred and grilled entrance of the well. The well itself is housed under a lintel dated 1563 (although this is thought not to be connected with the original well-house). The gate is about 1m high, whilst the stone frontage to the well-house rises to just over 2m. The thick oil shale for which this well is famous and gained it’s healing properties coats the entire well chamber interior along with the gate. As late as 1910 the water from this well was used as a cure for eczema. The stone work of the well-house only goes back about 1m or so, then the back of the well-chamber is housed under a grassy mound approx 0.5m high by about 4.5m in diameter.
Boece also states that legend holds that Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm III built a chapel near the spring, but that it was dedicated to St. Catherine of Sienna, not Alexandria.
James IV made an offering in said chapel in 1504, and when James VI visited Scotland in 1617 he also visited it, commanding ornamental steps be built for better access to the waters, which Cromwell later destroyed.
Legend has it that St. Catherine of Alexandria let fall a drop of oil that she was carrying to Queen Margaret from Mount Carmel or Mount Sinai and a spring welled up. As well as treating eczema it was alleged that this well was used for treating leprosy, but this may be based only on the fact that the neighbourhood within which the well is situated- Liberton- may have derived from the name ‘Leper-Town’.
This healing well was a place of pilgrimage for many Scottish monarchs. James IV visited and left an offering in 1504. In 1617 James VI had it protected by a well-house with steps made for easier access. Cromwell’s troops demolished the well in 1650. Over 200 year later, in 1889, the well-house was once again carefully rebuilt.